Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, told an audience in New York on Wednesday that even today she is unsure where to start when talking about her late husband, in her first formal appearance since leaving China after eight years of de facto house arrest.
Speaking at a panel discussion hosted by the Václav Havel Library Foundation, Liu Xia briefly talked about Liu Xiaobo, who died last July of liver cancer while on medical parole, and thanked supporters for their concern for the couple over the years.
Prompted by the moderator, Columbia University Professor Andrew Nathan of the National Endowment for Democracy, to begin the discussion with remarks on her late husband, Liu said: “Regarding Xiaobo, I think even today I still don’t know what to say”.
Looking down, she then shared a conversation she had with Liu Xiaobo in his final days. She told him that she had been contacted while he was in jail after co-authoring the human rights manifesto Charter 08.
“I got a message from the Kafka office in Prague,” said Liu, who has often likened her situation to the nightmarish bureaucracies of novelist Franz Kafka.
“One of the questions they asked was whether one day he would return to the public’s sight, and whether he had the power to rally the public … and I told Xiaobo that I don’t think I can see [that day].
“Liu Xiaobo smiled after hearing that.”
She did not elaborate, but offered a series of thanks to the Václav Havel Library Foundation, the attendees, and “all of the people that, over the years, worked so hard for Xiaobo and I”.
As she fell silent, Liao Yiwu, her friend and a Berlin-based Chinese writer in exile, recounted Liu Xiaobo’s last days, as well as Liu Xia’s disappearance.
“Even during Liu Xiaobo’s last minutes, he didn’t have hate in his heart,” he said, adding, “He wanted Liu Xia to leave [China].”
Liu Xia then leaned over to tell Liao, in Chinese, that he should stop speaking about her husband and her experience.
Chinese lawyer and dissident Teng Biao was in the audience along with several other signatories of Charter 08 – an open petition advocating for political reform in China. It was Liu Xiaobo’s co-authorship of the charter that led to his 11-year jail sentence.
“She suffers so much from Liu Xiaobo’s death and her house arrest. It’s hard to talk about,” he said.
Her brother, Liu Hui, had to remain in China as a condition of her receiving permission to travel to Germany. Teng described him as being “held hostage” so that Liu Xia would not speak out.
The panel was, for the most part, sensitive to Liu’s wishes.
For the rest of the discussion, titled “The Power of the Powerless in China”, Liao instead discussed anecdotes from his books, the influence of Czech writer Václav Havel, and certain opinions on the political and human rights situation in China today, which he described as worse than when Charter 08 was written.
Liu Xia and Liao Yiwu are in New York for the Václav Havel Library Foundation’s 2018 Disturbing the Peace Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk on Thursday.
Liao, this year’s winner, is receiving the award in recognition of his vocal resistance to the Chinese Communist Party. Liao was jailed for four years for the public recitation of his poem, “Massacre”, which remembered the Tiananmen Square crackdown of June 4, 1989.
Liu Xia was also nominated for this year’s award.
Published 27 Sept 2018 in the South China Morning Post